Stephanie Burgis
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Why Agents Matter
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There's been a whole bunch of debate going around the blogosphere lately about agents, with some people wondering whether it's even worth having one. Beth Bernobich suggested that, in response to some of the real vitriol that's been going around, those of us who've had wonderful experiences really ought to share them (she called it #agentlove).

When I first started writing, of course I wondered how important it really was to have an agent. It's enormously tempting to skip the publishing queue by going straight to the editors themselves (at least to those who allow non-agented submissions) rather than spending up to a year querying agents beforehand - especially because, yes, it's true, it is really hard to get an agent, just as hard as selling a book. (Agents will only take on books that they LOVE and also believe are commerically marketable, just like editors, so it's very much an equivalent process.) But my experience and my friends' experiences have all taught me that it would be a really bad idea to do that, for both commercial and artistic reasons.

First of all, once you have an agent, you make up in speed all the time you lost in the first place while spending months querying. Some publishers - even the ones that allow non-agented submissions - can take years to respond, and they generally expect non-agented authors to submit to only one publisher at once. Agents, on the other hand, tend to submit to multiple publishers at a time, and to get answered fairly quickly. Secondly, in what may be seen as crass commercial terms: agents will get you more money, far more than you lose in the 15% commission fee. I NEVER would have been offered the deal I got if my agent hadn't fought for me and lent the weight of his experience and knowledge of the field in submitting my book to eleven different editors with the message that it was a Big Deal. My deal was an unusually awesome one; but you don't have to have an unusually awesome advance to make the agent's fee worthwhile. I have one friend who sold his book and then got an agent to negotiate the contract. The publisher had originally offered him one deal, which, as a first-time author without an agent, he would have undoubtedly had to accept; after negotiations with the agent, the fee rose by FAR more than 15%, and he got a contract that gave him a lot of rights that would have been kept by the publisher if the agent hadn't been involved. (Having just read my own contracts, I am SO GRATEFUL to have an experienced and savvy agent doing my negotiations for me!)

And on an artistic level, I am just so grateful for my agent's smart, enthusiastic, and perceptive input on my novels. That's one of the reasons you need an agent who's genuinely passionate about your book, and that's why agents who turn you down, as heartbreaking as that feels (as I know from painful experience!), are actually doing the right thing for both of you - they don't love your book, and that means they won't represent it passionately and convincingly to publishers OR critique it from the perspective of someone who truly gets it. My agent totally got the core of what Kat was about, his critique rang completely true to me because of that, and the book is so much better for the rewrite I did, following his suggestions. That alone made it far more likely to sell, and to sell well, than if I had just sent a publisher the draft I'd thought was ready before Barry read it...but more than that, I'm just so happy to have an agent who motivates me to always stretch further and write better.

Plus, as much as I adore my editor and hope to work with her forever, the realities of the publishing industry mean that authors often work with multiple publishers across their lifetimes, and it helps so much to have a strong industry professional on your side through any changes, working for you and your career, not just your current book or series.

(And yes: of course that doesn't describe every author-agent relationship...but it should. If you're an agented writer who does not recognize their own agent-client relationship in this description, I would recommend finding another agent. Because publishing is a scary business, and you really deserve to have that positive, supportive relationship on your side.)

So. I'm guessing that this will all be old news to the agented writers who read my journal...but just in case there's anyone still wondering, the way I used to, whether it's really worth taking the time and effort to get an agent for their book - my answer will always be Yes.

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